Many remember Senator Claude Pepper as the “nation’s spokesman for the elderly,” serving as a chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Health and Long-term care and the House Select Committee on Aging during the 1970s. Pepper gained recognition for being instrumental in displaying such a perpetual commitment to ensuring affordable access to comprehensive healthcare and solidifying social security benefits and Medicare/Medicaid. Remarkably, he expanded the spectrum of public health through the establishment of ten research centers to reduce the pervasiveness of chronic illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, in an effort to reduce the exacerbation of symptoms.
Today, Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia among older adults. Many individuals who are affected by the disease experience early onset in their 40s or 50s, while the majority of populations are diagnosed at 65 and up. Although this chronic illness entails complexities to why it occurs, there are several risk factors that precipitate the presence of developing dementia. These conditions include: head trauma, genetics, age, diet, or family history. The U.S. National Institutes of Health reported, that diabetes mellitus, smoking, depression, mental inactivity, physical inactivity and poor diet are associated with increased risk of developing dementia. For example, diabetes can increase the risk of AD by affecting the AB accumulation in the brain, causing the brain to compete for insulin-degrading enzymes. Other studies reveal that hypertension increases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 50% by decreasing the vascular integrity of the blood-brain barrier, resulting in protein extravasation into brain tissue. Furthermore, the Alzheimer’s Association (2018) revealed that 35% of Alzheimer’s or dementia caregivers reported that their health got worse over time due to care responsibilities, compared to 19% of caregivers for older people without dementia. Primarily, this disease not only affects families but the healthcare system as well by prevailing as the most expensive disease in America, costing more than cancer and heart disease to treat. In 2017, the direct costs to American society of caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementia’s estimated 259 billion (The Alzheimer’s Association, 2018).
These statistics are staggering, which is why Senator Claude Pepper worked tirelessly to sponsor legislation to fund research efforts to create intervention therapies to alter cognitive decline. As a result, his legacy continues today as policymakers partner with IT technologist to treat the disease through the development of assisted technologies. These web-based interventions are beginning to change the paradigm of Alzheimer’s care by offering real-time access to clinicians via a patient portal or mobile app in order to provide care plans and disease management support in the home. Thus, aiding to lighten the burden of caregivers and improve the safety of dementia patients by modifying behavioral and psychiatric symptoms. (Lancioni, Singh, O’Reilly, Sigafoos, Amico, Renna and Pinto, 2016).
Pepper’s vision of improving home health care to enhance the quality of life for the disabled and elderly is beginning to resonate in the healthcare industry. Consequently, empowering dementia patients and caregivers in achieving self-efficacy. Even though e-health tools are changing the dynamic of dementia treatment, awareness and financial provisions are still necessary to broaden the scope of accessing these applications. If you are a student or faculty member who may be interested in learning more about Senator Pepper’s work or the implementation of healthcare policies in government, visit the Claude Pepper Library!
The Claude Pepper Library & Museum offers insight into the establishment of medical research centers as well as the National Institutes of health on behalf of Senator Pepper’s instrumental legislative work. These materials are available for researchers and can be discovered online through the collection’s finding aid.